UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the Syrian regime to declare a truce forthwith and bring an end to the conflict that, over the past year-and-a-half, has killed at least 20,000 people.
Speaking alongside French President Francois Hollande, he said:
“It is unbearable for the (Syrian) people to continue like this. That is why I have conveyed to the Syrian government (a) strong message that they should immediately declare a unilateral ceasefire…
“That is exactly what I have discussed and I am in the process of discussing with the member states of the Security Council and the countries in the region.”
Ban’s remarks come as the siege of Homs continues, with the army closing in and “cleansing” nearby villages, as AFP reports:
The army also kept up a siege of rebel neighbourhoods of the city of Homs – Syria’s third largest – and the nearby town of Qusayr, sources on both sides said.
“The army is in the midst of trying to cleanse the last rebel districts of the city of Homs,” a Syrian army commander told AFP.
“The army has already cleansed the villages surrounding Qusayr, and is now trying to take back the town itself,” the commander said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A security official told AFP the army hopes to retake the besieged areas by the end of the week to free up troops for battle zones in the north, such as Aleppo.
“It is a huge operation, and we hope to finish it off by the end of this week,” the source said, again speaking on condition of anonymity.
“After that, we will concentrate on the north of Syria.”
Homs province has suffered some of the worst bloodshed and destruction of the uprising which erupted against Assad’s regime in March last year, but since July the main focus of the conflict has shifted to Aleppo, the northern metropolis of some 1.7 million people.
And Ban also warned of the “dangerous” fallout from the escalating skirmishes on the Turkey-Syria border, telling the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg:
“The escalation of the conflict and the impact of the crisis on Lebanon are extremely dangerous.”
The UN chief also raised concerns about arms supplies to both Mr Assad’s regime and rebel forces. “I am deeply concerned by the continued flow of arms to both the Syrian government and opposition forces. I urge again those countries providing arms to stop doing so,” he said.
As the UN chief spoke, the leader of Syria’s main opposition group said that members of Mr Assad’s ruling Baath party could play a role in Syria’s political future as long as they did not take part in any killings during the uprising.
The comments by Syrian National Council leader Abdulbaset Sieda appear to be a softening of the opposition’s stance that it will accept nothing less than the complete removal of the Assad regime and its inner circle.